Phillies: 5 Free-agent Closers for 2022


By Tal Venada, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

For some Philadelphia Phillies fans, the offseason is a time to be an armchair GM with a wish list Dave Dombrowski, president of baseball operations, would love. Realistically, though, it’s mostly wishful thinking to plug every hole with decent talent, let alone top-shelf stars.          


Priorities First:

While the Phillies may find a DH for the middle of the order and a solid center field defender for affordable prices, a top fireman will be an expensive and necessary expenditure. Yes, there is more than one closer available, but there are also many franchises to compete with for the best.            


“There are more teams looking for pitchers than there are pitchers. That's why it's pricey.” - Brian Cashman

With the first published estimates for arb-eligible players, I’ve adjusted the total available to $37.4 million AAV (average annual value) if the new CBA (collective bargaining agreement) has $212 million AAV as the CBT (competitive-balance threshold). But keep in mind, free agency will be slower because the current CBA ends on Dec. 1.    

If the Fightins go over the CBT during the winter, it will be by $5 million max allowing for $15 million AAV additional at the trading deadline. So, decisions will be to fill their biggest needs, and Dombrowski has stated they are a leadoff man, a center fielder, a right-handed heart-of-the-order bat and a closer.  

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Phillies: Foundation for 2022 and Beyond


By Tal Venada, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

For the Philadelphia Phillies faithful, this winter will be one of some major holes plugged, some risks taken, and a few demands unfinished in some locals’ eyes. Dave Dombrowski, president of baseball operations, has already made some roster decisions heading into November some won’t like. 


The Exec’s Thinking:

Listening to some fans, I’ve heard the Phillies need a center fielder, a left fielder, a shortstop, a third baseman, a starting pitcher, a closer and two setup men. Of those eight, three will be on Dombrowski’s acquisition checklist. Realistically, some in-house remedies are necessary and cost-prohibitive. 


“Building a baseball team is like building a house. You look for the best architects, the best builders -- and then you let them do their jobs.” - Pat Gillick

Exceeding the CBT (competitive-balance threshold) by $20 million AAV (average annual value) is doable, but surpassing the second and third boundaries by an additional $20 million AAV and $40 million AAV respectively ain’t happening. That’s the definition of ain’t!                       

In a recent 40-minute interview with Dombrowski, he stated the names for the five-man staff, the relief corps and position players. His vocalized order is precise, which reveals some roster-assembly plans, and it makes perfect sense. Yes, some roles are obvious.

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Phillies: More-than-bargained-for 2021


By Tal Venada, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

The Philadelphia Phillies faithful had something to root for until Sept. 29: One fan will appreciate a meaningful game 158, while another will offer negative thinking on blast. But if the team went 2-3 in the National League Division Series, those locals would express a now deniable dissatisfaction. Expectations change, no?   


More but Less:

The Phillies gave us two ballgames with a playoff-like atmosphere, which is two more than many had expected in April. In August, though, talk was of a September collapse like the last three seasons. But could some unsurprisingly call this the usual “crash landing?”


“If a little is great, and a lot is better, then way too much is just about right!” - Mae West

Distinguishing ‘21 from the previous three campaigns isn’t far below the surface: minimal research. However, it would disprove the point some find effortlessly. Translation: A positive analytical sliver diminishes an unpleasant belief.        

To illustrate, the 2018 Phils played above their heads, and it couldn’t last. But it created a false interpretation of their ability. Realistically, they weren’t close to being a postseason franchise, and the fan base’s expectations drifted off base.                                        

The Bryce Harper signing increased possible October appearances like an NLCS, and some even believed the World Series was in play. Unfortunately, the rotation had holes and depended on hurlers to produce ahead of their developmental ability. And keep in mind, this was if the 2019 pen was healthy: It wasn’t.    

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Phillies: 2021’s September Drama


By Tal Venada, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

While the Philadelphia Phillies faithful anticipate 2021’s season-ending obstacle, this scrappy bunch of red pinstripes hopes to savor their first champagne shower as a team. Yes, the calendar reads Sept. 27 and the schedule reveals six games remaining. Destination: Atlanta.   


First Pennant Race:

Many Phillies fans want serious October baseball, but the mere mention of those aspirations can draw parental-like smiles at best and sanity questioning at worst. Realistically, some locals will have doubts until the last pitch of the Fightins’ campaign in October.   


“At the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of new possibilities.” - Jean Houston

Prior to Opening Day, fans had individual predictions from below .500 to slightly above the midpoint. But the Fightins have exceeded some expectations already even if they finish with only 81 victories despite six remaining contests. Interestingly, some may convey disappointment with a team they didn’t believe in.          

If there are reasons to doubt the Phils, it could be pointing to bullpen games, but the Atlanta Braves have one per rotation turn as well. Or, perhaps, it’s concentrating on what the Phillies are missing instead of what they have. Ergo, they are without Rhys Hoskins but have Zack Wheeler.         

I’ve also noticed a defeated attitude in some, while others had already given up any hope of the red pinstripes making the postseason. But when you consider your original expectations, this roller-coaster September is better than nothing: The norm you forecasted. 

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Phillies, MLB: Alternatives to Snap Judgements

By Tal Venada, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

For MLB and Philadelphia Phillies supporters, this question is difficult to square with life: If you live in a complex world, how are baseball questions so easy and quick to answer? Well, baseball might be an escape from reality in multiple ways. A safety valve, perhaps!                          


Food for Thought:

An ancient philosopher believed a quick answer is a wrong answer, and I concur. In baseball, there are so many diamond-sized variables: The wind, rain, sun, heat, cold and each player’s circumstances are among them. However, your escape is their reality, Phillies and MLB fans.    


“My father was a dreamy fellow --he read Plato and Socrates and watched Phillies games.” - Patti Smith

Did watching the hometown nine confirm the philosophers' thinking?

For many, it’s so easy they have cliches for quick reference: playing down to the competition, making excuses for them, and many others. Coaches, too, have their “that can’t happen” mantra meaning shouldn't occur, but robots don’t play the game. Realistically, all humans have flaws and make mental and physical errors.   

Other baseball fanatics rely solely on statistics and believe the human element is not a factor at all. Basically, they think every answer is found in mathematical equations, aka analytics. And I’ve experienced some who wouldn’t even consider another standpoint.    

According to Charlie Manuel, baseball lifer, the game is 40 percent luck. Therefore, the ball doesn’t always take a favorable bounce or land beneficially fair or foul. But one thing is true: many paying customers will endlessly and unwittingly search for perfection --their ever elusive holy grail. 

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Phillies, NL East: 2021’s Missing Pieces


By Tal Venada, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

For the Philadelphia Phillies and two divisional foes, ‘21 is more about competing with crippled rosters through Oct. 3 than the talent on paper. All three organizations are battling with top stars out for the season, and fans can only imagine the difference a starter or a regular would make. Same boat, different crew!      


Victory by Attrition:

While manager Joe Girardi must plug a rotation hole, the Phillies skipper must also meet the challenge of assembling a lineup to score enough to win more than those divisional rivals. Meanwhile, the natives are growing weary of the team’s chances despite their foes’ shortcomings due to out-for-the-year players. 


“Success is just a war of attrition. Sure, there's an element of talent you should probably possess, but if you stick around long enough, eventually something is going to happen.” - Dax Shepard

Determining the outcome with less than 20 ballgames is more difficult in 2021 because it’s an injury-plagued 162, and COVID-19 protocols can remove any player for 10 days or more. This summer, the Fightins, Atlanta Braves, New York Mets and Washington Nationals have lost stars until 2022.                          

For the Phils, they have an open rotation slot because Zach Eflin had knee surgery, and every fifth day is a bullpen game. So far, they’ve produced one victory and one defeat. And Rhys Hoskins also had medical procedures. But while Hoskins played five August contests, Eflin had started just one game in the second half.  

In April and May, Archie Bradley spent five weeks on the IL (injured list) and wasn’t effective in his appearances. Plus Bryce Harper, JT Realmuto, Didi Gregorius and Sam Coonrod missed time and/or played with minor injuries.

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Phillies, MLB: Pitching Roles' Breakdown


By Tal Venada, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

For the Philadelphia Phillies faithful and major league supporters, knowing the value of hurlers can ease the roller-coaster stress of meaningful September baseball. Realistically, many disappointments come from sky-high expectations unfulfilled. But some emotional investment is controllable. Don’t overreact!                                           


The Factors:

Emphasizing a rough patch for a pitcher, a bad outing or even an exemplary performance clouds the overall evaluation any team has made. For many Phillies fans, though, this is their first pennant race since 2011, and many will magnify everything: each game, play and pitch.               


“The rankings are quite volatile: Today you're 'great,' tomorrow you're 'not,' but then you're 'great' again. Now, I always look at the long term and by doing that, obviously, I can stay calm through the storm.” - Roger Federer

Management’s view of their on-field personnel is quite different from their fans. For one, they realize most hurlers aren’t going to succeed in every appearance, and their expectation is 75-80 percent. And they also know an ace can struggle, but a marginal starter can twirl a gem at any time. 

While many supporters determine a pitcher’s worth by his ERA, it isn’t the only assessment tool. Basically, a “fourth or fifth slot” arm rarely works more than five innings and sometimes doesn’t record 15 outs. And iffy control is the main reason they quickly use 100 bullets (20 per frame) except for a tight strike zone or many foul balls.              

In fact, moundsmen who can command four pitches or more have a better chance of going at least six innings even if one arrow from their quiver is off target. However, missing with a fastball is a troubling tell: It can lead to a short appearance, mop-up relievers, and possibly a position player on the mound.                 

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Phillies: Not So Fast, 2022


By Tal Venada, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

For some Philadelphia Phillies fans, it’s time to add another summer to the “non-playoff appearance” list. Granted, most haven’t mentioned those specific sentiments, but some have remarked even after reading the schedule of the Fightins and the Atlanta Braves through Sept. 5.                     


Defining Games:

While the Phillies have their doubting Thomases, other major league organizations also have supporters recently giving up after devastating losses or bullpen disappointments. Yes, New York and Boston locals like Philadelphians express similar views.                                       


“If the quickness of the mind and the fluency of the tongue are too punctilious and sharp, moderate them in your activity and rest.” - Xunzi

Prior to Opening Day, some fans believed the Phils would be a .500 team and finish in third place at best. Basically, they preferred the safe middle-of-the-road prediction. But when the Phillies are above .500 and in second place, they have many players and management to blame. Hello, is anybody home?   

To illustrate, the season is over without Rhys Hoskins, but a .500 record with a third-place finish will also end on Oct. 3, no? For now, Joe Girardi’s strategy is to play JT Realmuto daily behind the plate or at first base depending on the opposing starter. Ergo, switch-hitter Rafael Marchan will mostly face right-handers.           

Expect a matched-up batting order to get the most out of Andrew McCutchen, Didi Gregorius, Jean Segura, and the hot hand. Due to the schedule, though, it’s workable with the incentive of hitting one’s way into more playing time. And if Alec Bohm impresses at Triple-A, he could return in a part-time role and pinch-hit.

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Phillies, NL East: 2021’s New National Predictions


By Tal Venada, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

Many Philadelphia Phillies fans view September depending on recent games. And if the team wins or loses multiple contests, they will either anticipate October baseball, hope for more victories, or express defeatist sentiments; but ups and downs are the stretch-drive norm. Reality can be illusive!                     


The Ride Continues:

Despite eight consecutive triumphs, the Phillies aren’t a 90-win franchise. And their recent 4-8 mark doesn’t make them an also-ran either. No, 12-8 is .600 ball, and they played 14-10 (15-10 is .600) through July 30 to force the execs to add at the trading deadline with .583 ball.    


“Losing streaks are funny. If you lose at the beginning, you got off to a bad start. If you lose in the middle of the season, you're in a slump. If you lose at the end, you're choking” - Gene Mauch

In fact, hot or cold streaks have some predictability because good or bad does come to an end. And the other ballgames are .500: win two, lose two. Moreover, everybody has one thing only a few can control: confidence in themselves (players) or their club (fans).      

When regulars have it, they can produce above their talent level during a “time bubble” leading to a string of victories for the active 26. But a couple bad games are the opening for doubts to grow into prolonged slumps or losing streaks for the franchise. Ergo, sunshine or rain.               

For MLB supporters, most “believe” the triumphant times won’t end, and --when they do-- they can have a range of emotions from disappointment to extreme anger. And then they question the organization and the players, who can’t control their own self-doubt. Translation: Only success can eliminate negative thoughts.    

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Phillies: September’s Pluses for 2021-22


By Tal Venada, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

For the Philadelphia Phillies faithful, this is the race for the National League East crown, and you’ve probably experienced the euphoric highs and doubting lows. Plus the final month will only grow more intense as the days fall from the calendar like leaves from an autumnal tree. Welcome to the Show!                        


First Pennant Race:

While generals and the president discuss the country’s fate, the Phillies will negotiate the schedule to outmaneuver the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets. For skipper Joe Girardi, September’s squad can score and has starters who can put zeros on the board with a reliable --albeit not perfect-- relief corps.            


“The more baseball the better. It is a healthful sport and develops team play and initiative, plus an independent attitude.” - Dwight D. Eisenhower

The batting order has left-side power from Bryce Harper balanced by the right-handed Rhys Hoskins plus secondary pop from Andrew McCutchen (right) and Didi Gregorius (left). Atop the everyday eight, Jean Segura is a hitting machine, but Odubel Herrera leads off to lengthen the lineup if he’s on a hot streak.                   

While the Fightins have solid defense from JT Realmuto, Harper, Segura and Herrera, Hoskins and McCutchen are adequate. But Gregorius is a “Jekyll and Hyde” with the glove and bat. However, he can make a dazzling play on the dirt or launch a ball into the upper deck.   

With the leather, Ronald Torreyes and Freddy Galvis can plug defensive holes if they arise. And though neither are automatic outs, both provide decent bottom-of-the-order hitting, while sometimes their bats shine brighter than their golden gloves. 

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